Did England win by losing or did they just

England v Belgium - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ - Match 45

bugger it up again?

England’s last group game, against Belgium, was the one neither wanted to lose, while neither wanted to win either, England managed the latter.

Keep the momentum of winning going and topping the group or try and wangle your way into the “easier” side of the draw by finishing second.

Well the Belgians talked about not really going for the win but while a draw would have seen them finish behind England in the group on the fact they’d picked up more bookings in the previous two games. They then proceeded to add a couple more over the first half, which suggested that they would prefer that other half of the draw.

The Belgian manager, Roberto Martinez, didn’t really celebrate when Januzaj opened the scoring shortly after the start of the second half, his team certainly did though striker Batshuayi instantly regretted his…


Both teams made wholesale changes, Southgate starting just two of his first XI, Pickford in goal and Stones at centre-back. Stones came off with what looked like an injury, he was strapped up after, at half-time. It wasn’t a convincing performance from the defender. The goalkeeper made some good saves, while at the same time directing the ball into dangerous areas for England from those saves.

One thing about Southgate’s starting XI was it certainly wasn’t about seeing if anyone would put their hand up for the real starting XI. Luckily for him nobody really did.

What can Southgate have learned from pairing Vardy and Rashford? Nothing, because both of them won’t be starting the next game together. He would have learned something if either of them had played alongside Kane, because even Southgate isn’t stupid enough to drop Harry for the next game. But we don’t know how they’d work together, so Sterling will start the next game, even though he’s done nothing in his two appearances to justify selection.

England did manage to actually play the type of balls Vardy needs, quick and over the top, against a team that didn’t just all sit back. But Vardy ended up most times feeding Rashford, who had a bit of a stinker in front of goal, completely Sterling a number of good chances. He should still start ahead of the City man but won’t.

In the middle Dier walked about like a player who knew what’s what, it didn’t matter what he did, he wasn’t going to start in place of Henderson. Loftus-Cheek and Delph did nothing alongside him. The former had one nice run to draw a foul but that was it, for all the talk and hype he’s done very little in his time on the pitch at the World Cup so far.

Alexander-Arnold, initially did well at right wingback but Trippier is currently undroppable. The lad showed some promise but his set pieces tailed off, hitting the first defender most of the time. One excellent first time cross was something we need to see more of.

On the other side Rose was putting in a performance that should have seen him take over from Young. He was getting forward with pace, playing the ball quick and early or being fouled in the process. But he was completely done for the goal, though chances are Young would have been as well.

Jones was a real like for like replacement for Walker. Two gormless dolts just waiting to hand the opposition a goal. Why not move Alexander-Arnold back there if you want a fullback taking the role? Hell even Wenger can see Walker isn’t a defender and he’s never bought a decent one, never mind made one.

So Southgate learned nothing but now knows he can get away with playing his favourites.

Yes you’d rather be in the side of the draw where if you get past Colombia you’ll face either Sweden or Switzerland for a place in the semi, rather than trying to get past Japan to play Brazil or Mexico for that spot. But then everyone was happy about facing Iceland in the last Euros, after Hodgson made fewer changes in their last group game.

And it’s going to be Sweden isn’t it? England rarely beat Sweden, only once in a competitive match, five loses and two draws otherwise…

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